November 27, 2012

In Which Nanalie Tells Someone

Hi all. Just in case you're at work or school, there's some nudity in the first few pictures. It's completely non-sexual and the most you'll see is a nipple, but regardless, maybe save this one for when you get home.

May 24, 1180

It was probably time to start telling people.

If she studied her reflection head-on, Nanalie saw little difference, but when she turned to check her profile it was sure enough: not a large bump, but significant enough that there was no longer any sense in being mum about it. It couldn't have been a great idea to stretch her usual dresses much further either; might as well make it official and start wearing something more accommodating.

Damn good thing she hadn't come to that conclusion yesterday, though. She couldn't say she'd cared for her stepsister's husband--even before he'd gotten himself drowned in a ditch, she'd figured Melria could do better--nor had she and her stepsister ever been close, but it couldn't have been appropriate to make what was effectively an announcement at a funeral.

She would visit Melria soon enough, she supposed, but perhaps she would ask Avine to break the news beforehand. As recently as a week ago Nanalie's father had said that Melria was hoping for another baby soon, and while Nanalie had no doubt that she'd marry again eventually, her stepsister's form at the funeral hadn't suggested that she agreed. It probably wasn't the best idea to show up at the door of a grieving young widow wearing something that might as well have had the word 'Baby' embroidered on it.

Ah, but what did Melria have to do with Nanalie's baby? Melria's misery didn't mean that Nanalie couldn't be happy. She'd maybe send Garrett over with some biscuits, and perhaps a little something for Melria's daughter. She'd keep a sensitive distance until Melria had had some time to adjust, but what else could she do? If that was selfish, so be it.

Nanalie thumbed through the gowns in the armoir and settled on a white silk. Technically, it was a nightdress--but the material would stretch without breaking and it was hardly as if she'd worn in the previous night. She slipped it over her head, then pulled out a front-lacing tunic that could improve the look somewhat; if nothing else, she recalled seeing Had's friend Raia in something similar?

It would do, for all the white was impractical. She grabbed some pins from a box beneath the row of hems and pulled her hair up, slipping the little wires into place, shaking her head a couple times just to make sure they held.

Yes. That would have to do.


Smiling, she turned around to see her little stepson toddling into the room. He was such a sweet little boy--even if he did tend to be lazy about knocking. "Did you grow since last night, Karl? You look taller."

Karlspan beamed as he drew nearer. Nanalie took mercy on his little legs and stepped away from the armoir to meet him partway. "All that sleep must be working." He pouted--too old for naps, no doubt. Nanalie laughed softly to herself and, mindful of her womb, bent over to pick him up.

"One day, you're going to be a big tall man like your papa." She hoisted him up and he tapped his own face. The poor boy hadn't dodged Garrett's rock-crushing chin, but that wasn't what he meant. "Yes, you'll have a beard too."

Karlspan giggled. "Why don't women have beards?"

"Because women have enough to worry about without adding shaving to the list. Ever tried to lace up a corset?" He shook his head. "Lucky."

Another giggle. "That's silly."

"You're silly." She tapped him on the nose; he was a little big for her to be 'stealing' it, but she supposed she'd have another victim for that soon enough. "And big. Don't mind me if I take every opportunity to hold you, because soon you'll be too big for me to lift."

Karlspan's foot grazed her stomach. Something moved within her, as if to kick him back. "You're big too."

Nanalie swallowed. Her stepson was a polite little fellow who knew better than to comment on ladies' bodies, even in jest. More to the point, he wasn't the sort of kid who liked to state the constants; if he made note of something, it had changed.

Garrett knew, of course--seeing as he saw her naked as many nights as he didn't--and Arydath knew, as she always did... but Nanalie had yet to tell anyone. She'd supposed Asalaye would be the first, or perhaps her father. But surely Karlspan had just as much right to know? It was his little sibling, after all.

"Well, that's because you're going to be a big brother."

He blinked. He was more than old enough to understand the concept of siblings, even though he wouldn't have one himself for another five months. Garrett had siblings. Nanalie had siblings. Most of Karlspan's little friends had siblings. He'd probably figured out by now whether he'd wanted them or not. She just hoped that if he didn't--


A row of tiny teeth peeked out through a wide smile.

Well, so much for whatever she'd been thinking. "Mm-hmm. And you'll be a good one, too."


November 25, 2012

In Which Lonriad Predicts the Poems and Ballads

May 17, 1180

Laveria had been the only woman for whom Lonriad had ever considered buying flowers, but he never had, figuring they would be dismissed as frivolous and impractical. Now, though, he wished he'd taken the chance. A refusal by a living woman was infinitely preferable to an acceptance by her grave.

"I should have visited more often." And at Lonriad's age, his back would have protested--had protested, more than once. Never again would he let it have its way. "I never thought the last time I saw her would be... well, the last time I saw her," he finished lamely. He'd never been a poet at the best of times.

"You couldn't have known." That brought the total number of words Severin had spoken since they'd entered the crypt to four.

"No. But regardless, I should have come." He looked down at the roses again. The white ribbon had been a poor choice. Laveria had always hated white, as she'd had a messy occupation and white was impossible to keep clean. But black had seemed morbid. Pink, irreverent. No other color would have been any better. The red roses, however, felt right, or as right as they could have been. "But I suppose at my age, it's only a matter of time before I see her again."

Severin said nothing.

Laveria had been buried in the crypt at Severin's castle for lack of anywhere she might have preferred, empty save for her and dear Alina, who rested beside her. She had a simple tombstone, as Lonriad thought she would have preferred ("Why waste good money on me? I'm dead."), but there were some not-unpleasant carvings near the top and an attempt at a nice inscription, for all Laveria's life could never be summed up in five sentences or less. But perhaps it was better that way. Generations from now, when Severin and Nora, Jadin and Xeta and little Dalston, whoever followed them and whoever came next had filled the space, Lord and Lady Veldora and their children would come here to pay their respects to their ancestors and see the insufficient epitaph. Its emptiness would be maddening, unbearable. Poems and ballads would be written to fill it, but none would ever approach the truth.

Not the whole of it. No one ever had.

"Did she ever tell you? Any of it?"

For a man who had no doubt spent his whole life searching for a moment to ask that question, his son looked remarkably calm. But that wasn't surprising. He was her son too.

Lonriad shook his head. "It was never mine to know."


November 24, 2012

In Which Celina Does Not Project

May 6, 1180

Decorum--and perhaps gratitude--had dictated that she see Xeta and Jadin to the door, but no sooner had it shut behind them, Celina had made haste to Farilon's room.

In hindsight, inviting her older children immediately and all at once hadn't been the best idea she'd ever had. Farilon was overwhelmed enough as it was, and while she'd been eager to share her own excitement, the four of them had hardly been receptive, or not as she'd hoped. They'd been shocked--shocked, then varying degrees of comfortable, but never excited, for all she couldn't fathom why.

Lorn had left first. Celina couldn't blame him, she supposed, not when Leara's baby could be on its way at any minute, but he could have stood to be more apologetic about it. It wasn't long after that Rona had muttered something about relieving Yvanette's nanny and hurrying off, dragging Ashe with her. No doubt wanting to avoid the tension, Abrich had then "remembered" that he'd arranged a training session with his cousin Conant. Xeta had stuck around, but her strained politeness was such that Celina had to set her and Jadin free, if only out of guilt for calling them here in the first place.

Why had she bothered? All those years ago, they'd grieved their brother almost as strongly as she had, then he'd come back and then they'd feared they'd lose him again before long and suddenly that wasn't an issue anymore. In terms of life and death, that was more than the human brain was ever meant to process.


He turned his head, that sad look still haunting his face, grey eyes just about to cry if only they remembered how. How had she missed all his anguish? He'd seemed happy enough...

"Sweetie? Are you all right?"

He muttered something, not loudly enough to be distinguishable. He hadn't spoken much since it had occurred to him to speak, and what words he had managed had been stuttered and unpracticed. It would probably be a while before the poor boy worked up the confidence to try a little harder.

"I'm sorry I invited your siblings." She sat down on the bench beside him, not sure if she was welcome. He did nothing to shrug her off, if that was at all a good sign. "They... they're glad you're all right, really. It's just a lot to get used to, and they're not the most flexible group.

"They'll come around eventually. Xeta even said she'd drop by later in the week, and that she'd bring Wolf with her. And Lorn will want you to meet your new little niece or nephew whenever they come along." It was best not to mention the other two. Abrich wouldn't know how he felt until he'd had time to consider every possible response, and that involved waiting on the others. Rona... well, she'd been the longest mourning Dalston and the longest mourning Farilon, then there had been all that worry over leaving Naroni and Lonriad's marriage and her friend Aspen's departure, plus that tournament she was still punishing Lorn for, never mind that she'd gotten Ashe and Yvanette out of it. Rona couldn't handle change unless it came from a vendor. "We'll just... take things a bit more slowly from now on, all right? One of them at a time."

At least Ovrean's brood, she knew, would be more accommodating; the difference in rank, she suspected, plus the fact that they lived with Farilon, and none of them had struggled with the revelation to begin with. They, perhaps, were young enough to see wonders for what they were.

"Does that sound all right?"

Somewhat hesitant, Farilon nodded.

"Again, I'm sorry. I suppose I was projecting."

He looked at her, her uncle's grey eyes--her mother's eyes, so she'd been told--like inverted clouds, silver centers with stormy linings. She wondered briefly if he might speak. Instead, he abandoned his good posture and slumped against her side.


November 20, 2012

In Which Lorn Is Stuck with the Duties of the Eldest

May 6, 1180

It hadn't been Lorn's intention to leave home at all that week--not when Leara could go into labor at any minute--but the messenger had been persistent enough that Lorn's mother and stepfather must have insisted, for all it seemed they hadn't told the man details. At least Raia was there, along with Camaline and Jeda and of course Arydath. Still, even if he wasn't leaving her alone, this better have been important.

His brother and sister and brother-in-law had congregated in the front room, apparently also summoned and likely not having been there long. He wasn't sure how to take that. His mother usually made a point to inform Lorn of anything significant before the rest of his siblings--him being the oldest, never mind her liege-lord--but if it was serious enough that she preferred to tell them all at once...

Well. Now he felt a little guilty for being annoyed.

At least Abrich was smiling, though? And for all his relationship with Rona had never quite recovered from the tournament, surely any hint of tragedy would have merited at least a frightened glance his way?

"Have you seen Mother?"

A question, it seemed, meant a curt turn of the head and a minimalistic response. "No."

"Your stepfather was here, though." Ashe's mouth looked like it wanted to be an apologetic smile, but he was too firmly on Rona's side for it be sincere. Not that Lorn could understand why given the circumstances, but at least his brother-in-law didn't have to sleep on the couch. "Right before you got here, actually. He just told us to wait here a minute."

"He seemed pretty happy about something," added Abrich with a grin. Odd. Since when had Abrich managed more than a grimace? "Here I was, thinking it couldn't have been good news."

"Well, I don't know what kind of grouchy-pants messenger they sent over to your place, then. Our man looked like he'd learned to shit diamonds."

Lorn didn't have to turn around to know that Jadin had arrived. At least that meant the sister who actually liked him was also here. "You're lucky my mother isn't here to hear that."

"Your mother loves me and thinks I'm hilarious."

Xeta affirmed that with knowing snicker. "Though sometimes it's difficult to understand why." She brushed past Lorn with a quick kiss to his cheek, then pulled Rona from the couch and gave her a hug. "Anyone know why we're here yet?"

"No, but Ovrean should be back any minute."

"Or we could probably just go in." Abrich stood, but didn't make a move for the door. "It's not like this is a stranger's home."

"It wasn't all that long ago when you lived here, even," mused Rona as Xeta released her.

"Or you--even if you just had to move back to the nice big castle once Xeta's room was free."

"True." But Rona didn't budge either.

Jadin and Ashe shared a look that could have stood for a bit of subtlety. Xeta paid her husband a smirk, then passed it along to Lorn. "I think you know what happens next."

An annoyed sigh slipped between Lorn's teeth. "I know."

It was amazing, really--just how many stupid duties came with being the eldest.



November 18, 2012

In Which Farilon Is a Little Warm

May 6, 1180

It was morning, which was odd, as Farilon remembered little of the night. As always, he'd gone to bed for the formality of it, knowing that everyone else would be doing the same--had to be doing the same--and not wanting to disturb them with his unique brand of permanent insomnia. Or wanting to, but knowing better. He usually spent those hours trying to find pictures in the patterns of the ceiling, or staring out the window to pinpoint the minute the sky changed shades, anything to pass the time. Now, though... nothing. A good eight hours of his life, at least--gone.

He didn't miss them. He wasn't sure how many hours he had, but he wasn't about to beg for any more. That didn't mean he wasn't curious.

The room was stuffy, which was strange. The candles had been doused, from the looks of it. His mother, for some reason, had fallen asleep on the bench by the fireplace, but even she could not generate such warmth with only her presence. The hearth? No, he would have heard the cracks, or smelled the burning logs.

The candles on the desk? Not that they were near enough to feel. They were unlit anyway. So were the candles of the chandelier.

He pried his dense, bloated head off of his pillow just long enough to peek outside. There seemed to be some sun... but surely not enough for this? It was only May--barely May. He might have believed it had it been July, but May? No. Not when there seemed to be a breeze blowing in, perhaps the only thing keeping the room's contents from melting together.

Farilon flopped back downward and let his head roll to the side, just to look at his mother. She didn't seem to be sweating or panting, at least not as far as he could tell. She was... restful, he guessed. Happy. That was odd. She'd never let anyone know it, but she hadn't seemed happy in weeks.

He tried to reach for her, but his flimsy arm floundered under his own strain.


Her lashes fluttered. Her fingers wrapped around the edge of the bench and she pushed herself upright. He wished he could answer her, but in his heated haze he doubted he could even wave.

A train of red fabric trailed across the floor as she stepped toward his bedside. His vision blurred as he tried to keep her in sight. His mother became little more than colors and a fuzzy outline, dark hair and twinkling eyes and red dress and all.

Except her smile. That was sharp and clear as anything had ever been. "Morning, baby."

He kept on staring. His mother bent toward him and brushed a hand across what he supposed passed for his forehead. He normally felt her touch--anyone's touch--as a single unqualitative impact, but each finger was soft and distinct. "You're a little warm. Are you thirsty?"

He struggled to remember what thirsty was, what it felt like. He didn't know. His response might not have mattered anyway. "I'll get you a cup of water, all right? And a cold cloth for your head."


November 17, 2012

In Which Tavrin Presents the Agreement

May 4, 1180
The first thing Tavrin noticed about the duchess was an improbable appearance of youth. She was the same age as Raia's father, so Raia had said, and given what Tavrin knew about who had been in Naroni for how long, that sounded about right. Raia's father had aged well for a human, but he hadn't escaped the occasional grey hair or the lines around the mouth or the bags beneath the eyes--not like this lady, for whom such signs still had yet to appear. Her only aged quality was her worry, in her eyes, in her mouth, in the way she held herself. In face, she was a maiden; in being, she was a mother.

And that was exactly why he'd come. "My lady."

The duchess frowned, but not impolitely. It was not disdain upon her lips, but a question. "Good sir. Forgive me, but if you are who I think you are, I understand you don't speak the language well?"

"Oh, that's not a concern. I actually mastered the language a couple years back, and I've grown bored with pretending I don't speak it."

He winked; she gave him a polite smile for his trouble, but nothing more. "I see. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Yes, actually. I'm here on behalf of my grandfather."

"Uh..." The corners of her mouth crept downward, one shoulder shuddering. "Your grandfather, the homicidal maniac?"

"Yes, him." The duchess swallowed. Tavrin figured it wasn't entirely undeserved, but pressed on anyway. "It turns out that the two of you could possibly do each other a favor."

Her discomfort reformed itself into a prominent bend in her eyebrow. "No disrespect to the messenger, but I don't think your grandfather has any right to ask a favor of me. He did kill my first husband."

"Yes, well... that certainly is awkward." She blinked, as if to reply with a muttered 'I'll say'. "But please let me explain; no harm will come to you should you decline, but I'm sure you'll find the agreement to be mutually beneficial."

Just looking at her, he wasn't sure if she believed him. But she sighed and handed him the benefit of the doubt. "I'm listening."

"Thank you. You see--"


Oh. It seemed that he'd been followed.

"Mind explaining why you can't steal someone else's clothes for a change?"


November 13, 2012

In Which Deian Is Doubted

May 3, 1180

Greetings, Esteemed Ones.


You desired a word with me?


Interesting. Might I inquire as to the occasion?


Oh? Have I done something noteworthy?


I'm flattered. Any chance you've changed your minds on that, though? Because I threatened a pair of knights a couple years back and I'd really like to make good--


Ah. Well, I suppose that's your call.


Right. Well, is there anything else? My schedule isn't exactly empty.


And that would be...?


Oh? Would you like another sacrifice? Because I did have fun with the last one, I'll admit.


Hmm. Well, I'm sure they'll make a comeback before the decade is out.


There is no need for doubt, I can assure you. What is this task?


Oh. In that case, I suppose that doubt isn't entirely unjustified?


November 11, 2012

In Which Rona Grasps at Straws

April 30, 1180

"Well," chirped Asalaye, twirling about as Rona shut the nursery door. "That was certainly a struggle! I'll count us lucky if they sleep half as long as it took us to lull them all."

Rona indulged her with a small smile. It hadn't been long ago that she would have found the prospect of an afternoon with Asalaye some sort of karmic punishment, but Ashe spent so much time with Lonriad and Yvanette seemed to like the boys, so she'd swallowed her pride and resolved to be civil. But it hadn't taken as much resolve as she'd guessed; it seemed she'd overestimated the longevity of the grudge, not to mention the effort required to befriend her. No, Asalaye wasn't Riona or Hilla, but she certainly wasn't the horrible monster the Rona of yesteryear had made her out to be. And her nose wasn't even as large as she'd thought!

"God, you're lucky you only have one of them. Enjoy the relative peace while it lasts."

"What peace? Yvanette's a handful as it is." And that was exactly why--for all Leara and Xeta could drop their hints--they weren't actively trying for another one!

"Oh, they all are--when they're awake." Asalaye gave a knowing wink. "But at least when Yvanette's asleep, you know that all your children are asleep. If Sevvie's not up, Adonis is and vice versa. Makes it difficult for Lonriad and I to get any time for ourselves; you wouldn't believe how tough it's become to have sex in the middle of the day."

...Eh? "You have sex in the middle of the day?"

"Um. Yes." Rona blinked. She had to be joking. Surely, she was joking... "What, you don't?"

Rona shook her head. "Just at night."

"Ouch. Well, I hope it's at least most nights."

Er... "No, not quite most... a couple times a month, I guess?"

"Oh." The corners of Asalaye's mouth drooped to the level of their midpoint. "Oh, honey. What's the matter?"

"The matter?" Rona grimaced. Sure, it wasn't as if there was nothing she wanted to change about her sex life, but never in considering that had the focus been on quantity. What was wrong with a couple times a month, anyway? Especially when there was a small child around? "You think there's a matter?"

"Only a couple times a month? Sweetie, there's got to be a matter." Asalaye smoothed out a wrinkle in her sleeve and peered toward the door from the front room--as if anyone around would intrude without knocking. "I don't get it. You're both young, healthy, good-looking people; you'd think you two would be at it like rabbits every time you get a second alone. When you do have sex, who usually initiates? Him, or you?"

"Me." The other woman squinted and Rona wasn't quite sure why. It wasn't stereotypical, sure, but Asalaye herself was hardly nun-like; surely she brought it up as often as Lonriad did? "Ashe... I don't know. I guess he's making an effort not to put any pressure on me."

"Well, there's not pressuring--which is good--and there's not realizing that sex is a possibility at all--which, not so much. Or oh... maybe he's embarrassed?"

"Embarrassed?" Could that have been it? She'd never given him a reason to feel embarrassed. Had she? "Why would he be embarrassed?"

"I don't know. Any mechanical issues? You know--trouble getting it up, finishing too quickly, that sort of thing?"

Rona shrugged. "What constitutes 'too quickly'?"

"Oh, honey." That wasn't an answer! "Well, how is he in bed?"

"Uh..." Shit. How could she put it in a way that wouldn't leave Asalaye snickering after she left? Was there any way to talk about the awkward shut-eyed strain on his face as she looked up at him, the hesitation with which he entered her and the clumsy thrusts that followed? "He's very... gentle."

"So, boring."

She grimaced. Oh Lord, maybe he was embarrassed. "A little."

"Hmmm. Sounds like he might be a little afraid of you." She wished she could find that surprising. "Maybe you just need to get his confidence up a bit. You know, do something to show him how much you want it--or how much you want him. Maybe that'll give him the kick he needs to bring it up a notch. Here, sit down; I'll show you something that might help."

Not sure if she was in any position to protest, Rona did as she was told while Asalaye opened the wardrobe and started to fish through it. "Now, granted, I never had any problems like that with Lonriad. But after Adonis was born, apparently he didn't think the herbs I was taking were sufficient assurance and he wouldn't go any further than some heavy petting--until I got this."

"What?" She couldn't quite see with the wardrobe door in the way. "You'll see in a minute." Asalaye's gown fell to a crumpled ring of silk around her feet; Rona didn't think she wanted to. "So there's this seamstress in the village, Ivilia. She used to work for Lady Alina. She's also Lady Leonora's sister-in-law by her first husband--his sister. Anyway, the story goes that Lady Leonora commissioned the first one of these for Lord Severin's birthday some years back, and apparently it worked like a charm, at least until one of the maids walked in on them. But anyway, the story spread and pretty much any woman who can afford it has been commissioning Ivilia for one of these ever since. Lonriad's sisters all have them, and his stepsister. Lady Valira has one too. So does Nanalie, believe it or not, for all I'm sure she got the most drab color possible--hell, don't be surprised if your sister has one of these too."

"One of what?"

"One of these!"

Well. It didn't look much like the sort of thing Xeta usually wore. "It... doesn't leave much to the imagination, does it?"

"Oh, not at all! But sex is so much better when no one's over-thinking it." Asalaye flipped back one ponytail and popped her hips across the line of her torso; Rona feared for a second that one of her breasts might burst right out of their barely-existent restraints. "Anyway. Ever since I got this, all I have to do is wear it and there's absolutely nothing in the sack that Lonriad won't do. He could come in dead tired after a long day of chasing things around the woods, but as long as he sees this, he will put in every last bit of effort he's got, because he sees that I want it and men have that primal need to accept any and all challenges."

Did they? "I don't know if Ashe has that."

"Would he be so embarrassed if he didn't?" Eyes rolling, Asalaye planted herself down on the center of the couch; Rona made a mental note never to sit on that cushion again. "Honey, he probably knows that the sex hasn't been great and maybe he thinks you've given up on him. Trust me--set the bar high, but show him that you know he can reach it. If you expect him to do well, he'll do everything he can to meet those expectations."

Her skepticism not exactly defeated, Rona forced herself to glance over Asalaye once again. It couldn't have been reasonable to expect one garment to fix everything--especially a garment so tiny. But perhaps it couldn't hurt to grasp at straws? "You're sure?"

"Definitely." Asalaye flashed her a smile--and, thank God, nothing else. "Now, be a dear and fetch the boys' nanny while I change? We're going down to Ivilia's to get your measurements."